Hands on with Facebook's new News Feed

Like all Facebook redesigns, the site’s new look will take some getting used to, but some of its design innovations just plain make sense.

I’ve been playing with the new Facebook News Feed designs since getting access to it early Thursday, and am giving it a qualified “like” so far.

The redesign, which will be rolling out to users in the next few weeks, is deeper than what I surmised from Thursday’s presentation. It’s not just the new news feeds, which offer new ways to parse your Facebook content, that are new. The whole navigation scheme for the site has changed.

Navigation Tray

The Navigation Tray

A new tray at the left side of the screen—it'll look familiar to users of Facebook's mobile apps—offers icons that link to pretty much everything people do on Facebook, from apps to messaging to groups to photos. The familiar ticker at the right side of the screen is gone; it’s now tucked in more as an afterthought at the bottom of the new navigation tray.

The top icon on the navigation tray is for the more familiar all-purpose newsfeed, but even that has gotten a mild makeover. The images and text are larger, and the sources of the content are more clearly marked.

The Music feed

One of the biggest changes to the design is the way it handles music. There’s a new feed to deal only with music-related stuff. You just choose the feed from a feeds drop-down list at the top right of the page.

Music feed

The Spotify music your friends are listening to is now featured in the music feed. Facebook has moved your friends’ song listens out of the old ticker at the right hand side of the screen, and into the music feed. (The ticker still exists at the very bottom of the new launcher tray, but it only displays one piece of content at a time now. Odd.)

And Facebook is doing a lot more with those Spotify listens. It looks for artists and songs that multiple friends are listening to and groups them together in an article in the news feed. The article contains a large picture of the artist, and at the left you can see all your friends who’ve listened to the artist lately. Mouse over any of the pictures and you can see what those people said about the artist.

The Following feed

Some of these themes are continued in other feeds. In the Following feed, Facebook now builds media rich articles using content from the pages of publications or public figures you like. For instance, if you follow the Onion’s page, you might see an article in your feed with the three most recent articles from the publication. Each article has its own image, and a 20-word summary. You might also find in-page videos of public figures you follow.

The Photos feed

Photos feed

The Photos feed simply displays all the posts that include photographs. The photos appear larger in the feed, as well as the text around them. Even the text in the comments boxes below the photos appears to be a little bit bigger than before. At the top of the Photos feed page, you’ll find a small header image that incorporates one of the images from your feed. (Actually, all the new feeds pages have these header images.)

After looking at all the new bells and whistles, most of it seems intuitive to me. I quickly got used to using the navigation tray at the left of the page. The navigation tray is used to collect a lot of navigation links that have been scattered over different parts of the page in recent iterations; this adds to a more unified, cleaner feel to the site.

As for the new News Feed designs, the big question is whether or not people will actually use them. After spending some time with them, I think there’s a good chance that I might click over to the Photos and Music feeds after I had looked over the main newsfeed. These pages (wisely) offer not just a specialized kind of content, but also a better presentation and some new functionality.

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